5 years, 9 months ago
Pakistan President Musharraf is considering stepping down (h/t Jules Crittenden). Musharraf is important, but there is a more important undercurrent within Pakistani politics at the moment. M K Bhadrakumar with Asia Times gives us a glimpse into the inner workings of the Pakistani mind.
A far more worrisome development for Washington should be the capture of power in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) by the Awami National Party (ANP). Foreign observers are yet to size up the profound implications of an ANP government, which espouses Pashtun nationalism, in the sensitive province bordering Afghanistan. The ANP’s electoral success over the Islamic parties is being commonly seen as signifying a rout of the forces of extremism and as the victory of the secularist platform. While this is manifestly so, what cannot be overlooked at the same time is that the ANP also has a long tradition of left-wing politics and consistent opposition to US “imperialism”.
I deny that it is manifestly so that the defeat of the Islamic parties should be seen as a defeat for extremism. I argue (relying heavily on Nicholas Schmidle) that the Pakistani voters rejected the clerics failures to deliver on promises of prosperity, but that rejection of the clerics is not at all the same thing as rejection of the Taliban or other extremists in Pakistan. Continuing:
Significantly, in the present party line-up, ANP expresses its closest affinity with PML-N – and not PPP to which it ought to be ideologically closer. Without doubt, ANP has opposed the US’s support of Israel, the US invasion of Iraq and the Bush administration’s intimidation of Iran. It has vehemently criticized Washington’s policies allegedly aimed at establishing US hegemony. It has condemned the US forces’ operations in the Pashtun regions in southern Afghanistan during the “war on terror”. On Wednesday, the ANP leadership reiterated its demand for “peaceful means to end militancy in the [NWFP] province and the adjacent tribal areas”.
In practical terms, an ANP government in power in Peshawar will find it impossible to lend support to the sort of military operations that the US would expect the Pakistani military to undertake in the border regions with Afghanistan for ending “militant activities”. Interestingly, ANP makes a clear careful distinction between “militancy” and “terrorism”.
To be sure, the ANP will point out that the US is pursuing its own national interests in Afghanistan and is expecting Pakistan to kill the Pashtun militants so as to save American lives. The ANP will also demand that Pashtun alienation in Afghanistan and in the tribal areas must be addressed through dialogue and political accommodation as well as through a long-term policy of economic development of the region.
The noisy election has been largely portrayed as a referendum on Musharraf’s controversial rule, whereas the specter that is haunting Washington is the widespread opposition to the “war on terror” in Pakistan. This opposition cuts across provinces, ethnic and religious groups or social classes in both rural and urban areas. The US’s perceived hostility toward the Muslim people is at the root of this anti-Americanism, and it will not easily fade away.
Bhadrakumar gives us reason to believe that the party that has been placed in power cannot accommodate the U.S. war on terror. This is significant, and points to even deeper undercurrents within Pakistani politics, this undercurrent being tantamount to a Pashtun rejection of the war on terror. It is good that the Pentagon is looking for other ways to supply NATO forces in land-locked Afghanistan if Pakistan becomes even more inhospitable to U.S. forces.
There are indications that planned “aggressive” evolutions against enemy targets in Pakistan may now have to be put on hold (or cancelled outright).
American officials reached a quiet understanding with Pakistan’s leader last month to intensify secret strikes against suspected terrorists by pilotless aircraft launched in Pakistan, senior officials in both governments say. But the prospect of changes in Pakistan’s government has the Bush administration worried that the new operations could be curtailed.
Among other things, the new arrangements allowed an increase in the number and scope of patrols and strikes by armed Predator surveillance aircraft launched from a secret base in Pakistan — a far more aggressive strategy to attack Al Qaeda and the Taliban than had existed before.
But since opposition parties emerged victorious from the parliamentary election early this week, American officials are worried that the new, more permissive arrangement could be choked off in its infancy.
In the weeks before Monday’s election, a series of meetings among President Bush’s national security advisers resulted in a significant relaxation of the rules under which American forces could aim attacks at suspected Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the tribal areas near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.
The change, described by senior American and Pakistani officials who would not speak for attribution because of the classified nature of the program, allows American military commanders greater leeway to choose from what one official who took part in the debate called “a Chinese menu” of strike options.
Instead of having to confirm the identity of a suspected militant leader before attacking, this shift allowed American operators to strike convoys of vehicles that bear the characteristics of Qaeda or Taliban leaders on the run, for instance, so long as the risk of civilian casualties is judged to be low.
The new, looser rules of engagement may have their biggest impact at a secret Central Intelligence Agency base in Pakistan whose existence was described by American and Pakistani officials who had previously kept it secret to avoid embarrassing President Pervez Musharraf politically. Mr. Musharraf, whose party lost in this week’s election by margins that surprised American officials, has been accused by political rivals of being too close to the United States.
Meanwhile, more forces are being deployed to Afghanistan to “train” Afghani troops, and we cannot but conclude that the conventional operations which too soon stood down to “peace-keeping operations” (rather than COIN operations), are now turning into a complete turnover to the Afghan forces. Part of the problem is the fact that NATO, which has absolutely no strategic plan for Afghanistan, is at the helm of the campaign thanks to the efforts of Donald Rumsfeld. But while training indigenous troops to bear the load in Afghanistan is a positive step forward, the Taliban are enemies of state in Afghanistan only so long as they don’t hold power.
The Taliban are now and always will be enemies of America, and the human terrain in both Pakistan and Afghanistan is becoming complicated to say the least. Time is of the essence, and the well-worn dictum that counterinsurgency takes ten years (based on David Galula’s experience, fighting different people under different circumstances who held different beliefs) will only serve as soothing and narcotic words to an addicted military brass as the campaign “goes South.” The campaign, that is, that is both Pakistan and Afghanistan at the same time.